Thousands of churches are warning they may leave the United Methodist General Conference over a vote to drop official language banning same-sex marriage and ordaining LGBTQ clergy, according to the Religion News Service

The mainline Protestant church's legislative assembly is holding a special session in St. Louis later this month, where the body will vote on whether to strip language in its rulebook that prohibits “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from becoming ordained as ministers. The language also bars ministers from officiating same-sex marriages. 

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Religion News Service (RNS) notes that a split between member churches within the denomination over the restrictions means that certain conservative churches will likely sever ties with the denomination if the conference elects to drop the language. But if the assembly keeps the prohibitions in place, more liberal churches may leave. 

The vote could represent a turning point for the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination, one that has 7 million members and almost 32,000 churches in America. It has 12.5 million members worldwide. 

About 1,500 churches, almost all of them from the U.S., have expressed support for a movement to separate from the denomination if the rules are changed to ordain and marry LGBT people, RNS reported. 

The Wesleyan Covenant Association, a conservative group within the denomination, is reportedly openly working on a split.

One of the churches expected to leave the denomination over a vote in favor of the rule change is Mt. Horeb in South Carolina, which counts former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki HaleyNimrata (Nikki) HaleyAmerican women can have it all State denies report ex-spokeswoman received Fox salary while in administration Trump rules out Haley joining 2020 ticket MORE as a member.

“I’m a believer that the church has to transform the culture, not the culture transforming the church,” Rev. Jeff Kersey, senior pastor at Mt. Horeb, told RNS.

According to Tennessee news station WJHL, 864 delegates will meet in St. Lous on Feb. 23 to vote on the issue. The delegates will have the option to vote for one of three plans, including the change to the language regarding "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," a plan to reaffirm the church's current beliefs and teachings and a plan that would divide the denomination into three branches that could separately decide stances on issues related to sexuality.

The United Methodist Church has made its voice heard on certain political issues in recent years.

In June, the church called on former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHouse gears up for Mueller testimony Trump's no racist — he's an equal opportunity offender Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank MORE, a Methodist, to “immediately reverse" the Trump administration's policy of separating families who were caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.